Expert's Panel

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    How do you best gather competitive information?

  1. Your field service people—they are working in the fabs with your customers. They hear and know what is wrong and right with the competitor's equipment. That's a good source, but never have them open the panel on a competitor's equipment—that's a good way to get thrown out. Also the web is an excellent source—their web page, annual and quarterly reports at We don't encourage snooping around, but the trade shows are also an opportunity to see competitor's products and what they are saying about them.
  2. The best competitive information comes from two places—customers and ex-employees. First ask if they have signed a document saying they can't talk about certain things at their old job—if they have, don't talk to them. But frequently they have not. Then you have to filter what they say because if they left there angry it may be emotionally tainted. Be careful of competitive information coming from customers in Korea and Taiwan, because it is usually dispersed to lead you to think a certain way. I have had specific situations in Korea where the purchasing manager says I have your competitor's quotation here on my desk and I want to know if you are willing to meet their specifications and price. His secretary then calls him out of the room, hoping that I will look at the quote—but it is changed to reflect what they want to get from you.
  3. You need to establish and maintain a "competitor file" because this data normally drifts in like leaves on a tree. In order for a competitor to bring out something new they have to go to several forums and talk about it. The new technology will be presented at the Chemical Society or the Diaelectric Organization. There will be multiple forums because they will be out early tooting their horns. You want to be there early listening to it. By the way there is a good Competitive Profile format used in The Quest Team Key Account Management process.
  4. Developing on what was just said, you need a good template or process because you are going to have to act on all this disparate information and turn it into meaningful conclusions. You want wisdom and not information. Wisdom is the analysis of a lot of data and turning it into key things. Hundreds of questions and answers are needed create wisdom.
  5. First of all in acquiring information keep it legal. There are multiple sources limited only by your imagination and the law. We talked about field service engineers—any of your people that find themselves in and out of customer fabs.—they know a lot of stuff they may not even be aware of. Be sure, however, that they never pick anything up; they never write anything down while they are in a fab that doesn't have something to do with your product. In addition to that, vendors to your competitors—those who serve you and competitive companies. You can ask any question you wish, including who much does the competitive product sell for. When you are at expositions you can see who goes in and out of your competitor's booths and try to figure out why that is occurring. Talking with your own sales people—they may know more about competition than you think they do.
  6. I am going to give you some other opportunities to get competitive information. Hire an independent consultant—tell them exactly what you want and be specific that you will not accept any information that they gather illegally. Standards meetings at SEMI are often overlooked. It's amazing how much open information comes out in these meetings—brief whoever is your representative to look for competitive information. Know who your counterpart is in your competitor's company—get to meet them and talk to them periodically.
  7. Another note on organizing competitive information. There is a technique in marketing called "Benchmarking." Essentially you list the features and performance that's important in the MRS. Then you go by column and take your top three competitors and see if you can fill in all the answers. Where you don't have information, you have a target to go look. When you are through you can see what the best of three is and see how you stack up. Also, whenever you give out information be sure to talk about "what" you do, not "how" you do it—this limits information gathering of your competitors.